KeKe Wyatt - Who Knew? (2010)

KeKe Wyatt
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With the tumultuous journey that singer KeKe Wyatt has experienced over the last decade, as a compassionate human being, you want her to succeed. But as a critic you have to be honest about what you hear when playing her new project, Who Knew?Lucky for me, what I hear on KeKe Wyatt's sophomore album is music to my ears. Dynamically performed and musically sound, if staunchly traditional, Wyatt aptly re-creates the emotional powerhouse vocals of late 80s quiet storm luminaries like Karyn White, Cherrelle, Angela Winbush, Desiree Coleman and D'Atra Hicks. The Underdogs' production on up- and mid-tempo cuts propels Wyatt's album out of the age of neon gear and high top fades and back to a future where Wyatt is the star her through-the-roof talent deserves.

With the tumultuous journey that singer KeKe Wyatt has experienced over the last decade, as a compassionate human being, you want her to succeed. But as a critic you have to be honest about what you hear when playing her new project, Who Knew?Lucky for me, what I hear on KeKe Wyatt's sophomore album is music to my ears. Dynamically performed and musically sound, if staunchly traditional, Wyatt aptly re-creates the emotional powerhouse vocals of late 80s quiet storm luminaries like Karyn White, Cherrelle, Angela Winbush, Desiree Coleman and D'Atra Hicks. The Underdogs' production on up- and mid-tempo cuts propels Wyatt's album out of the age of neon gear and high top fades and back to a future where Wyatt is the star her through-the-roof talent deserves.

Strikingly beautiful with an alto to soprano vibrato that has only grown stronger and more urgent with age, time has been good to Wyatt, in some ways at least. The Indiana songstress is a long way from the young woman accused of stabbing her reportedly abusive husband (all charges since dropped). Longer still from the teenage girl wailing on back-to-back platinum singles with crooner Avant, back when the two were thought to be the next superstar duet team thanks to hits like "My First Love" and "Nothing in the World." Gold album solo debuts (Soul Sista) interrupted by media nightmares and criminal charges are nearly a decade old now; far fresher are the pains of twin record deal disappointments with TNT and Cash Money Records. Sadly these deals yielded singles like "Ghetto Rose," but no albums. Now on Shanachie with a title track single that is gaining traction on urban AC and a heavily downloaded cover of Rachelle Ferreell's "Peace On Earth," Wyatt is ready to come back from the abyss and into the promise of her destiny.    

That destiny feels fairly assured when you listen to Wyatt's church-trained vocals rip into the big finish on one of the album's keynotes, the classic ‘90s R&B flavored ballad "Without You." Hearing her levitate a middling filler-cut like the L. Young penned and produced "So Confused" with the sheer majesty of her huge voice and make it a radio song you'd want for company on a meditative Sunday drive, reminds you how a great cook can make a pleasant pudding into a triple-layer mousse of art. Radio has choice picks with the percussive hip grinder "Daydreaming," the suckling sweet harmonies, punchy horns and near perfect groove of "Never Give Up," and Producer Harvey Mason's wonderful re-introduction of Wyatt to the public on the delirious rhymes and rhythms of "Who Knew?" The clubs can pelvis pop all summer long to the Dirrrrty South pole slider, "Getting It," particularly if a more bass heavy version hits the DJs by June. All in all, while nothing feels particularly innovative in lyric or arrangement, the overall consistency of Who Knew? in sound and voice gives you hope for Wyatt and the ability of this album to do the heavy lifting Wyatt's career needs.

KeKe Wyatt is hungry on this album, and it shows. Everything is sung with a relish and earnestness of a boxer fighting for her dream. There is little nuance here, but that's okay with a voice this fierce. You do wish Wyatt had delved a little deeper and more personal in her songwriting, as she penned most of these ten-tracks and you think maybe the producers could have not all played it quite so safe. But, why take unnecessary risks on an album that could be the gamble for your life and future? Well, thanks to an indefatigable instrument and an indomitable spirit that just shines through Who Knew? Wyatt's gamble paid off. "Whew!" says a grateful and cheering critic. Highly recommended.    

By L. Michael Gipson      

 
Choice Cut - Maysa - "Lovin' You Is Easy"

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